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Council to consider socially responsible investing

Photo Credit: COURTESY CITY OF PORTLAND - Commission Steve Novick held a press conference with labor and faith organization in May when one of the city's Wal-Mart bonds expired.The City Council will be asked to create a committee to decide which companies it should not invest in on Wednesday.

The recommendation is a response to a resolution passed last October to create a temporary Socially Responsible Investing Committee to study the city's current investment policies and processes, and to recommend how the council can change the policies to reflect environmental, labor, ethical, social and extreme tax avoidance concerns.

The resolution listed only company that the city should not invest in, Wal-Mart. Commission Steve Novick, who introduced the resolution, held a press conference in May to announce one of the city's five Wal-Mart bonds had expired. He said the city will not buy any more Wal-Mart bonds until the company changes its labor practices.

“From what I can tell, no other U.S. city has looked at socially responsible investing in quite the same way as Portland,” Novick said at the press conference. “I’m hopeful other cities and states take note and adopt similar investment principles to hold companies accountable and align our investment policies with our values.”

According to the city, Portland’s entire investment portfolio ranges from $940 million to $1.29 billion and averages about $1.08 billion during the year. In Fiscal Year 2013, the City’s investment portfolio generated about $4.3 million in earnings, which were distributed to all city funds.

Before the Wal-Mart bond expired, the city's investment in the company was $36 million, or roughly 3 percent of its investment portfolio.

The five-member Socially Responsible Investing Committee did not name any other companies the city should avoid supporting with its investment funds. Instead, it recommended that a permanent committee be established to draw up specific criteria for making such decisions in the future.

The committee also recommended the city bore a firm with expertise in such issues to advise it on managing its corporate investments.

In a memo to the council, Fred Miller, the city's chief administrative officer, said the committee recommended, "Council should establish a standing permanent committee of public members with various areas of expertise to take public input and recommend eligible issuers for inclusion on, or removal from, a do-not-buy list. The City should contract with an outside data research vendor to provide reports about eligible issuers. These reports should evaluate each eligible issuer based on principles established by the Council. The committee should use these reports to develop its recommendations to Council."

A fiscal analysis accompanying the request says creating the standing committee could have an impact on future investment decisions.